Saturday, 3 September 2011

How Woodstock opened my ears (Part 2)

As late as the 1980s, cinema goers in the country were never as lucky as the cinema goers of today. Only very rarely did we have the chance to enjoy movies at the same time as their official releases worldwide. We would have to wait months before a new movie gets screened at a Malaysian cinema. And even when it did, the people in Kuala Lumpur would get to enjoy it first before those in other parts of the country.

A case in point was the Woodstock movie. When it was showing in Kuala Lumpur, I think it was in late 1972. Too bad for me, because I was still at school in Penang. Then when the movie finally came to be screened in Penang sometime in 1973, I had already moved temporarily to Petaling Jaya. So I missed the show again.

Perhaps I should add here that I wasn't surprised when the film hardly lasted a week at the cinema in Penang. Using my own experience as a guage, if I hadn't been impressed with the music in 1971, how popular would be the movie be with the cinema-goers in 1973? Not with the mainstream cinema audience, it did not. It attracted only a small niche market in Penang, which wasn't enough to keep the movie on the screens for long.

By mid-1976, I had already returned to Penang. One day, I saw in the newspapers that the Woodstock movie was going to have a rerun at the old Choong Nam cinema in Ayer Itam. This cinema in the suburbs of George Town was famous for their short second-round screening of movies. If you so happened to miss a show when it first made its rounds in the city, you could be sure that if you were patient enough, you'd get a second chance to see it when the Choong Nam cinema picked it up later. This was the case for the Woodstock movie, and I wasn't going to be third time unlucky!

So for the first time in my life, I finally got to watch the Woodstock movie. And for the first time in my life too, I finally got to appreciate the music and musicians that I was first exposed to in 1971. A five-year wait but by golly, it was worth all the waiting. Suddenly, all the unfamiliar names became familiar. Suddenly, all the unfamiliar sounds became familiar.

On the big screen, I was shocked and overawed by the power of the performers: from the fervour of Richie Havens to the delicate strength of Joan Baez to the spaciness of a drug-induced John Sebastian to the fish cheer of Country Joe McDonald to the frenzy of Ten Years After to the coolness of Crosby Stills Nash and Young to the mesmerising music of Santana to the gruffiness of wildman Joe Cocker to the showmanship of The Who till the virtuosity of Jimi Hendrix. Each of them making their marks in their own inimitable styles.

Suddenly, all this made sense to me. Music was no longer the everyday pop fed over the radio daily. It was more than that; music was a world onto itself. To me, music is a diverse culture and a religion with no racial boundaries. Slowly, I was beginning to fit the pieces into the jigsaw puzzle.

Of course, amidst all the rapture, there was disappointment. I remembered that in February 1971 I had a chance to own the Woodstock album, a three-record set that my father had brought back from Wing Hing, the record shop. I had shown some indifference to the music then and had my father return it to the shop, never buying it. Over the years, I went on to collect the double compact disk and then the 4CD set on occasion of Woodstock's 30th anniversary.  But listening to those compact disks was never going to be the same as that first time when I placed Side One of the triple record set on my Gerrard turntable. I really pined for that lost opportunity.

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